The Blue Bulls will meet the Sharks in the Currie Cup Final in Durban on October 25, after the men from Pretoria recorded a deserved 31-19 win over the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that it was a 10-point blitz in two minutes before the half-time break that broke the resilient Cheetahs, and even though they produced a late comeback, they were always playing catch-up rugby in the second half.
It was a game that was close and intense in the early exchanges and the Cheetahs were good value for their 9-6 lead, but once the Bulls got their noses in front they were controlling the game and their own destiny.
While the tactical games of Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Morné Steyn were both superb, the real first-half star was Robert Ebersohn – a teenager who played with a maturity that belied his youth.
In the end it was defence that won the day for the Bulls, with the Cheetahs’ sole try – by wing Jongi Nokwe – a fortuitous score which came in much the same way as an intercept, when a team on attack has no time to re-align the defence.
The Cheetahs took the game to the Bulls in the early stages and succession of early penalties – on both sides – saw the visitors take a 9-6 lead after 16 minutes.
Neither kicker, Jacques-Louis Potgieter for the Cheetahs and Morné Steyn for the Bulls, found their range and radars early.
But the first crucial score went to the Bulls, who first hit down the right flank with some great handling, before bringing it back to the left – where Wynand Oliver threw a perfect long pass to Bryan Habana, who went in for a great try. The call went to the TMO for a forward pass from Olivier to Habana, but he ruled that it was food.
Steyn missed the conversion, but the Bulls had hit the front after 18 minutes.
Steyn slotted his third penalty in the 39th minute, as the Bulls got another crucial score just before the break – giving them a 14-9 lead.
But the Bulls put daylight between themselves and the Cheetahs when they scored virtually from the restart.
They first worked it up in midfield through the phases, then went left to Habana’s wing – with the International Rugby Board Player of the Year making good metres – before quick recycling and quick hands taking it to a huge overlap on the right. Zane Kirchner took the ball over the line, but passed it back to John Mametsa, who was credited with the try. However, that was truly a team try.
Steyn added the conversion as the half-time hooter went and taking a 21-9 lead into the break the Bulls knew they were the team in command.
Potgieter gave the Cheetahs some hope with a 51st-minute penalty, but three minutes later Bulls captain Victor Matfield strolled over for the try that ended the game as a contest.
It started with prop Gurthrö Steenkamp charging down and attempted clearance and the Bulls taking the ball through phases till the Cheetahs ran out of numbers on defence. Steyn’s conversion made it 28-12 with 25 minutes to go.
Potgieter had another shot at goal as the game went into the final quarter, but it drifted wide – the first missed kick of the game.
But there was a flickering of hope when Springbok flyer Jongi Nokwe scored a try in the 67th minute. It came when SWikus van Heerden knocked the ball on in the tackle and Nokwe pounced on the loose ball. He sprinted 70 metres to touch down unopposed. Potgieter added the conversion and with just over 10 minutes to go it was a nine-point game – 28-19.
Potgieter had another shot at goal with five minutes to go – a crucial moment if there ever was. But unfortunately it drifted wide to the right and that sense of inevitability started to creep into the game.
The Bulls now controlled the game and played out time, taking the ball through a succession of phases, before Steyn sealed the game with an injury-time drop-goal.
Man of the match: Several Cheetahs put their hands up. Heinrich Brussöw tried his heart out – with 11 tackles in first half and a couple of crucial turnovers. Juan Smith and Adriaan Strauss showed why they are Springboks, while Robert Ebersohn was pure class. Wynand Olivier had his moments for the Bulls, Fourie du Preez and Morné Steyn were the generals behind the Bulls pack and Gurthrö Steenkamp did monumental work on defence. However, our award goes to Bulls lock and captain Victor Matfield, who had one of his best games of the season – starting with three tackles in the first minute and followed by lots of carries and an exceptionally high workrate.
Moment of the match: This one goes to John Mametsa’s try in the 40th minute. It was a real team try and included a fantastic build-up. But it gets our award because it was the game’s most crucial score and gave the Bulls the breathing space they needed.
Villain of the match: Not really a bad villain, but Bulls No.8 Pierre Spies deserves a mention for his insistence in carrying the ball in one hand and then knocking it on – it is just silly and basic stuff.
For the Blue Bulls:
Tries: Habana, Mametsa, Matfield
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 3
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Pens: Potgieter 4
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 John Mametsa, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Tiger Mangweni.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith (captain), 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 AN Other, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Jandré Blom, 21 Hennie Daniller, 22 Kabamba Floors.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Touch judges: Deon van Blommestein, Joey Salmans
TMO: Shaun Veldsman